23 November 2004

An epiphany

Since May I have been on sabbatical, although I have taught one course this semester. Over this time I have been reading and rereading books and articles on the subject of authority, an interest I have pursued since my graduate student days at Notre Dame. One of the subjects of my dissertation, Yves R. Simon, wrote extensively on authority in at least three books: Nature and Functions of Authority, Philosophy of Democratic Government and A General Theory of Authority. During my last year at Notre Dame, I taught four freshman seminars in which I had my poor beleaguered first-year students reading everything from Simon and Hannah Arendt to Stanley Milgram and even Robert Bolt's celebrated play, A Man for All Seasons.

Throughout much of the past half year I have not had much direction. Authority is a huge topic, and one could easily write volumes on it. Even Simon's General Theory is rather less than that, as it treats primarily authority's functions and not other related elements. (In fairness to Simon, this book was published posthumously; thus the title was likely chosen by the publisher and not by Simon himself, who would probably have given it a more modest one.) In my upper-level courses, where I have my students researching a 10- to 15-page term paper, I spend much of the semester telling them to narrow down their topic and bring a sharper focus to it. I've spent most of my sabbatical telling myself the same thing, but without much to show for this effort.

Until recently.

About two weeks ago I went back to the provisional master plan, containing a list of chapters and descriptions of what will appear in each. I began to look at the various theories of authority as propounded by the likes of Arendt, Carl J. Friedrich, Max Weber, Richard Sennett, Lawrence Kohlberg, Milgram, Rousseau, and so forth. It occurred to me that virtually all of these confuse authority with something else, mostly by reducing authority to one facet of the whole. At this point a way of categorizing these theories suggested itself, and I began to write as more of this came into focus.

Then on sunday evening I was sitting at table with Theresa over dinner. (Nancy was out of town this past weekend at the annual SBL/AAR meeting in San Antonio.) In the middle of our meal I had something of an epiphany. Suddenly everything I had been working on over the past six months crystallized into a central thesis, along with a subtitle: "Authority and the human person." I think I've made a rather significant discovery, but I am as yet reluctant to share the contents of this until I have received some feedback from colleagues. (I will be presenting the results of my research at a colloquium next semester here at Redeemer.)

I might add at this point that, because I was feeling so lost in all this, I had asked for prayers from two colleagues near the end of last month. One of these is a rather remarkable prayer warrior who has the uncanny ability -- spiritual gift, really -- to know in advance exactly what people need to be prayed for. (This probably has a name, but I don't know what it is. I have reason to think I was temporarily given this unnamed gift on only one occasion -- when I was in her presence.) The three of us brought my need before God together in my office. I strongly believe that it is more than coincidence that things began to come together for me shortly thereafter.

If I have been writing less in this blog in recent days, you now know why. I still have a lot to read and reflect on. I do not think it will take me seven years to write this book, as it did my last -- and first. But there is still much to do before it's done.

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